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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): "Die dicken Wolken scheiden sich - Festive music for Altona"

Hanna Zumsande, Santa Bulatovaa, soprano; Geneviève Tschumi, contraltoa; Alon Harari, alto; Mirko Ludwig, Julian Rohdea, tenor; Ralf Grobe, Rainer Mesecke, bass
barockwerk hamburg
Dir: Ira Hochman

rec: August 2014a & August 2015b, Hamburg, Stellinger Kirche
CPO - 555 018-2 (© 2017) (53'43")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/Db
Cover, track-list & booklet

Die dicken Wolken scheiden sich (TWV deest)a; Nunc auspicato sidere (TWV deest)b

Moritz Görg, Tibor Mészáros, trumpet; Idan Levi, transverse flute; Steffen Voss, bassoon; Maja Hunziker, Rupert Dintinger, Christine Schwarz, Katrin Ebert, Galina Roreck, violin; Rafael Roth, viola; Sven Holger Philippsen, Felix Görg, cello; Bernd von Ostrowski, violone; Alon Sariel, calichon; Ira Hochman, harpsichord; Olga Chumikova, harpsichord, organ; Frithjof Koch, timpani

Georg Philipp Telemann was by far the most prolific composer of his time. The number of his compositions is almost overwhelming. Only in the department of church cantatas his output is estimated at around 1,400. On top of that we have to assume that a considerable part of his oeuvre has been lost. In some cases we know the titles, and it is a matter of good luck if one of them is rediscovered. The present disc includes even two pieces which were discovered fairly recently. They are not included in the Telemann catalogue, because nobody knew that he had written them.

Both of these pieces are occasional works. The composition of such music was the duty of any composer in the service of a town, such as Telemann, who was director musices in Hamburg from 1721 until his death. However, these works were not written for Hamburg, but for Altona, a town west of Hamburg, which today is part of the city. This caused some unease with the Hamburg authorities. The largest work on the programme, Die dicken Wolken scheiden sich, was to be performed in Altona on 16 October 1760. At that same day Telemann was to perform an inaugural composition for a new pastor at St Catherine's. "Hamburg's Spiritual Ministerium demanded that he take charge of the music for the pastor's local investiture rather than a festive composition outside the city, for he was 'installed as the cantor in Hamburg, not in Altona'" (booklet).

Telemann had close ties to Altona. He regularly contracted musicians from the town, when he needed extra forces for his performances. Between 1741 and 1764 he wrote at least twelve festive compositions for Altona. One of them is Die dicken Wolken scheiden sich, intended for the celebrations of the "first centenary of the hereditary sovereignty of the royal house of Denmark" in 1760. Altona was founded in 1535 as a village of fishermen in then Holstein-Pinneberg. In 1640 it came under Danish rule as part of Holstein-Glückstadt, and in 1664 received city rights from Danish King Frederick III, then ruling in personal union as duke of Holstein. Altona was one of the Danish monarchy's most important harbour towns.

Die dicken Wolken scheiden sich is divided into two parts, the first to be performed before, the second after the sermon. The text is a mixture of sacred and secular elements. The fourth recitative is telling: it is allocated to three allegorical characters, Trade, Learning and Religion. The other characters in this work are Memory, Contemplation, Denmark's Guardian Spirit, Peace and Righteousness and in addition we hear The Present Generation and a Chorus of Delighted Subjects. In its structure and character this work is comparable with the so-called Kapitänsmusiken, compositions performed at the annual festive banquet for the Captains of the city guard in Hamburg.

The first part opens with a chorus on two verses from the Bible, Job and Mark respectively. The second section has the form of a fugue, and includes some notable harmonic progressions. It is followed by a sequence of recitatives and dacapo arias. The third recitative is followed by a dictum, a quotation from the Bible. In this case two verses from Psalm 85 are sung by the choir. Another recitative follows, and then the choir sings a chorale, two stanzas from O daß ich tausend Zungen hätte. The second part opens with an aria, followed by a recitative and another aria, a chorale (Ihr, die ihr Christi Namen nennet), an arioso and an 'aria' for choir. It closes with a dictum on a verse from Revelation 7.

Although this work was written at the occasion of the centenary of the hereditary sovereignty of the royal house of Denmark, its text is a eulogy on the then Danish King, Frederick V, who was much loved. Under his rule Denmark flourished economically and culturally and enjoyed educational and social reforms. The fact that Frederick is in the centre of this piece undoubtedly explains the dotted rhythms, typical of the French overture, in one of the arias. The aria for chorus, the penultimate section of this piece, begins with the words: "God save the King, and let him graze in the light of your countenance, girded with joy. Then we shall all prosper".

Frederick ruled from 1746 to 1766. That gives some indication about the time of composition of the second, much shorter work in the programme: Nunc auspicato sidere, which in the source is called a quatuor. It is a Latin Ode for King Frederick, whose text was written by a poet from Altona, but is in fact a reworking of an older text, written in 1723 for the centenary of the University of Altdorf near Nuremberg. Parts of the text were arranged for the occasion, such as the second verse, which refers to Denmark, and the third and fifth, which mention Frederick. The first verse remained unaltered: "Now a prosperous age shines beneath an auspicious star. Now the sun has brought forth new eras. Now a happy age has arisen for the spirit and the sciences". Jürgen Neubacher, in his liner-notes, presumes that this piece may have been written shortly after Frederick's installation, following the death of his father, in 1746 or after his coronation in 1747. The use of Latin can be explained from the fact that the piece was intended for the Christianeum, the Latin School of Altona. The verses are set for four voices and basso continuo, and include episodes for two and three voices.

This is an important disc, as it substantially contributes to our knowledge of Telemann's musical activities for Altona. It also further proves that at an advanced age the composer was still a major force at the music scene and in full command of his creative powers. The festive music of 1760 is of the same standard as the oratorios he composed at that time. The arias show why Telemann for so many years was the leading opera composer of Germany. The Ode is a much smaller work and sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of Telemann's output. The music is served pretty well by the performers. Especially Hanna Zumsande, Mirko Ludwig and Ralf Grobe deserve praise for their fine performances of the arias. The recitatives are also performed rather well, with just enough rhythmic freedom, but here some of the singers use a little too much vibrato. The tutti are sung by the soloists and four additional ripienists. This seems well in line with the most common practice in Hamburg and its environment in Telemann's time. There is some excellent playing of the instrumental ensemble here as well.

In short, this is a substantial addition to the Telemann discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Ralf Grobe
Mirko Ludwig
Hanna Zumsande
barockwerk hamburg

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